Almost everyone knows the expression "Rome wasn't built in a day" and, wandering around this ancient city, you will soon realize that it will take several days just to visit a few of the numerous historic sights and monuments. The Eternal City"as Rome is renowned"is perhaps the only urban center in the world where you stroll along an ordinary street and turn the corner, only to be confronted by something as majestic as the Roman Colosseum. Or perhaps you are taking a leisurely walk along a narrow cobbled lane, and at the end of the street is a piazza with the magnificent Trevi Fountain right before your very eyes.
But Rome has much more to offer than simply the well-known tourist attractions.
The Colosseum. Trevi Fountain. Rooftop gardens. Piazza Garibaldi. Photos courtesy of Roy Heale.
Mussolini's home and gardens are soon to be open to the public for the first time since his death and the Auditorium Parco Della Musica is a modern-day amphitheatre dedicated to arts and music"and is also the host of Rome's gay and lesbian film festival every year. There is, in fact, The Other Rome"composed of lesser-known but equally fascinating and historic sights to enjoy.
For the past six years Rome has been renowned amongst Europe's GLBT communities for its annual Gay Village, which is a popular element of the Estata Romana"Roman Summer festival"and is now a tourist attraction. Although the influence of the pope reaches far beyond the Vatican walls and Rome's gay night life may not be as robust as other similarly sized European capitals, the Gay Village is a phenomenon. You might even see the advertising billboards for the Gay Village at major airports throughout Europe, attesting to its widespread recognition.
Since 2002 a city park has been the venue for the festive village, and this year ( from June to September ) the Parco del Ninfeo"a different venue than the Parco delle Cascate, which has hosted in previous years"has been home to an open-air community of shops, cafes, bars, movies, performances, parties and more. Nestled amongst the trees and shrubbery, the village compound is a hub of activity after dark on Thursdays and Fridays and all day on Saturdays. One of this year's special attractions is a fitness center that includes indoor cycling, reiki, volleyball and tango dancing. To appreciate the size and scope of this undertaking, it should be noted that the estimated cost of Gay Village is $2.4 million. Sponsors have contributed $300,000, and the rest is expected to be made up by admission ticket sales and earnings from the village's shops, restaurants and bars. The Parco del Ninfeo is in the relatively new EUR Business District of Rome ( located at Via delle Tre Fontane and Via dell'Agricoltura ) and is a little difficult to find, but after searching for the location the gay rewards are gratifying. Almost every gay and lesbian Roman visits the village regularly throughout the summer, and tourists make the trek from all over Europe to experience the sense of community and enjoy the parties and festivities.
As with so many major European cities, Rome has several major parks to enjoy and the Parco Gianicolense is one of the largest. It is located at the summit of one of the seven hills"la cittÃ dei sette colli"encapsulating Rome. Here, you will not only find some of the most beautiful parkland and pathways, but also one of the most spectacular views of the city. Strolling around this large verdant acreage, you will come across the Fonte Acqua Paola; the Porta San Pancrazio; the Garibaldi Monument and Piazza; the Faro al Giancolo clock tower; and even an unusual view of the Vatican from this height that is spectacular at night time. Not only are the sights memorable, but it is also a wonderful escape from the extreme summer heat of the city.
Another respite from the city's inevitable summer heat is a day trip to the less well-known Spiaggia Il Buco gay beach. From the heart of the city it is about a one-hour journey on public transit, and makes a fun picnic day away from the historic ruins. It is also a chance to catch some eye-candy as the local gays and lesbians enjoy their piece of paradise on the Tyrrhenian Sea. There is a stretch of nude beach that is mostly populated by the gay community.
In Rome, there are over 50 gay and gay-friendly bars, clubs, restaurants, cafes, shops, saunas and other businesses. And here is an online tip: There is a map of Rome presented by gaydar.it, and it provides very comprehensive listings for all that is gay in this metropolis. You can also find the map at most gay establishments, including the appropriately named Coming Out bar that is close to the Colosseum at 8 via S. Giovanni in Laterano. Once you have your map, you can plan a route to visit some of the popular nightspots, such as Gloss, Gorgeus, Hangar, Sky Line, Sphinx and, of course, the popular disco Muccassassina"the number-one nightclub in Rome. As with all European cities, the action begins after midnight and the bars and clubs fill to capacity very quickly on weekends. Romans are very friendly; wherever you go, you are sure to receive a warm welcome and most of the locals speak English or are very adept at making themselves understood!
If it's your first time in Italy, then you will probably soon discover the uniquely Italian phenomenon of rooftop gardens. If you can take a moment to divert your eyes from the visual feast at street level and look to the skies, you will notice that most buildings have rooftop gardens in varying shapes and sizes, complete with robust flora and fauna. It is an Italian expression of pride"and, of course, very gay"to outdo the neighbors with a spectacular city garden on high and to enjoy the views from a very inviting and luscious patio in the sky. Because of the warm climate, these gardens proliferate each year"and some have grown to resemble full-fledged city parks. If you're lucky enough to meet a local and visit their rooftop paradise, you will understand this obsession in the heart of the city.
Gay accommodations in Rome are not abundant, but there are several reasonably priced gay bed-and-breakfasts. The Gay Open Bed & Breakfast is centrally located at Piazza Vittorio, and a little further out is The Frutta & Verdura Bed & Breakfast"and both are very conveniently located for sightseeing and enjoying the nightlife. Close to the main train station is the very gay-friendly and cheap Edyta Bed & Breakfast; however, despite the price, you will still enjoy your own spacious, clean room with a bathroom, plus friendly and helpful owner operators. It is still possible to enjoy Rome on a limited budget, but advance research and early booking are musts.
However, if you are looking for a decadent treat on a special anniversary, honeymoon or getaway with your lover, then The Bernini Bristol"a Sina hotel and member of the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association"is perfect. The hotel is set in a 19th-century Roman palace located at Piazza Barberini, and is close to many traditional Roman sights including the Trevi Fountain, The Spanish Steps and the famous Via Veneto. Here, you can pander in decadence and even luxuriate in one of their suites with your very own large rooftop garden overlooking the city. All of the the rooms are spacious and include ultra-modern or classic dÃ©cor with indulgent amenities. They also have a gourmet rooftop restaurant with a 360-degree view of the city.
Whatever type of holiday home-away-from-home suits your budget, you can find multiple choices in Rome. However, it is likely that you will probably spend very little time in your hotel room if you intend to experience and enjoy all that Rome has to offer in culture, history and gay life.
Any lover of Italian food should be prepared for a true gourmet delight, but it can also be an expensive undertaking. When planning your dining adventure, it is advisable to leave the tourist areas and head off into the side streets to find a pizzeria or smaller cafe where you can enjoy a traditional Italian four-course dinner"perhaps including antipasta, pizza, veal, pasta or other Roman specialties"at more reasonable prices. Try to avoid dining at the attractive and very appealing umbrella-saturated restaurants on the beautiful piazzas where you will pay a high price for the view as well as your meal! Of course, dinner on the Via Veneto at one of the renowned restaurants like Harry's or Cafe de Paris is a must at least once during your vacation, but the prices are around $100 per person for a three-course gourmet dining experience. However, there is a guaranteed vacation memory to match every penny spent.
For Canadians, it is now much easier and cheaper to fly to Rome from Montreal or Toronto, thanks to the low-cost Zoom Airlines. Base fares for a one-way trip can be as low as $279 ( plus tax ) and, for a little extra, you can purchase premium seating with extra leg room. The economy fare baggage allowance is a generous 20 kilograms ( 44.1 pounds ) for checked baggage plus one carry-on and the in-flight meals are excellent, soaring way above the average airline cuisine with no extra costs.
So when in Rome, don your walking shoes and be ready to step back in time as you explore the ancient monuments by day; feast upon gourmet Italian dinners with real gelato for dessert in the evening; and then perhaps sip a nightcap with an Italian stallion to complete your Roman holiday.
Helpful Web sites:
"flyzoom.com, berninibristol.com, auditorium.com, gayvillage.it, gaymap.info, rome-bed-breakfast.eu, italiantourism.com, rome.info and romeitaly.ca